Struggling Through Winter

I have struggled, emotionally, this winter. I am not whining, I am not maudlin, I am not anything other than appearing normal on the outside. Inside my brain, my heart and my being has been in overdrive.

From the outside, everything looks fine. I exercise, I eat (well some), I talk nice to others and I feel compassionate and kind. Inside, I am confused, alone and worried that there might really be something wrong with me.

Three months before Jim died, my counselor strongly urged me to try antidepressants. After three and half years of the whirlwind of cancer for both Jim and myself, she and the psychiatrist who recommended the medicine felt that I was emotionally overloaded and depressed. Well, you think? I agreed to try an antidepressant to help get me through a difficult time. The dose started low but we had to adjust it upwards until I reached a dose that was acceptable for me. I come from a buck it up,  grin and bear it kind of family. Weakness is not in our thought process. It took a bit of encouragement to try the medicine.

Five years later I began to talk to the psychiatrist about coming off of the medicine. I mean how do I know that I really need it now that five years has gone by and I am much more together than right after Jim died? How do I know? Last June I began a slow weaning protocol. I did well until September and then I had to go back up on the dose a little. I remained there until I arrived back in San Diego.

Fall and winter are not my best times. I don’t like the shorter sunlit days, and I fight against coming inward and looking around in those quiet and sometimes shadow sides of myself. Winter is a classic time of being inward. I am glad I am at the beach because that has helped with this unguided annual review. Unguided means that I don’t actively seek out the coming within, it just seems to occur.

Did you know that depression is cyclical? I learned this from the psychiatrist. When people come off antidepressants, if a person is in an upswing they usually do well initially until depression once again raises it’s cyclical self. When I tried to take the final plunge to remove the medicine from my body I was in a more depressive cycle so I knew right away that this wasn’t good. My acupuncturist, Gayle, also relayed to me that she does not recommend for a person to come off these types of medicine as we roll into fall and winter.

So here I am, somewhat disappointed in myself that I could not take the final step to stop this medicine. I know it is not a sign of failure but it kind of feels that way, just a little bit.

Depression is nothing to take lightly. I have known others in my life who battle it in a way more severe form than what I am dealing with. It is easy to tell someone to get over it or deal with it or be positive, yet for those dealing with depression, these kinds of statements are painful and unsupportive. What would be a much better response, I think, is to say I am sorry you are going through this, what can I do to help? Or even better call them once in a while just to talk. Or even better, invite them to dinner, go to a movie, guide them gently in a different direction. No one wants to be sad or lonely or depressed.

Day at the tidepools-4

My therapist has given me some assignments. So I am trying these while I wait for spring and the longer happier days of that time of the year.

  • Set up a phone date once a week with someone I love and know loves and supports me.
  • Read up on the “Stages of Life”. I guess when you reach my age it is not unusual to review all of your life thus far and try to figure out what comes next.
  • Take my passion and do something with it. I have already been working on this with my photography and creating my web site.
  • Each month pick one thing that brings happiness or contentment into my life. Last month I started a photo a day project. It not only fuels my artistic side but it also gets me outside. this month, I am attempting to finally sit in meditation for five minutes a day.
  • Look for groups that have common interest and join in.
  • The worse thing I can do is to hole up. Each day I try to get out to walk, bike-be in nature. I do it alone and with others.
  • I have also decided to start a journal and write one thing I am grateful for every day.

This is just a sample yet I believe you get the idea.

As I write this Miss Elsie the Cat and I are in Idyllwild, CA visiting a good friend, Mary. This has been the best thing I could have done. I have been able to casually visit with Mary over the past few days. I am out and away and in the mountains. Each day I have been here I have felt better, emotionally. Mary and I are embracing each other’s company, sharing our woes and all our good and interesting times since we last saw each other. It is a marvelous catharsis for us both.

It is hard to admit this type of stuff to yourself. It is hard to admit it to the broader world. I have sat on this post for over a week, wondering if I should reveal this much of myself to the rest of the unknown world. I reviewed some of my other posts and some of them have been just as raw and revealing. Why hesitate here. I believe that depression has a stigma that surrounds it. What if I admit that I am not strong. Well everyone is suppose to be strong all the time, right? Well guess what?  That is not true.

I see this as a continuing part of who I am and dealing with grief. This too shall pass. Maybe, just maybe by sharing this someone else may not feel alone or the odd person out. Well here is a fact so no one has to feel alone, over 350 million people in the world suffer from some form of depression.

I continue to embrace each day with as much fervor as I can muster. Some days that is easy and some days my embrace is just on a tinier scale.  And…I keep telling myself, spring is coming, it is just around the corner.



16 thoughts on “Struggling Through Winter

  1. You touch the deepest part of my soul. Thank you for sharing your struggle and heartfelt feelings. I’m sure you have no idea how many people you touch with your postings and photographs and artwork. My guess is that you are an inspiration to people struggling with similar situations-you are my inspiration-sending love and good feelings your way.

  2. Janet, I have suffered with depression also. You are learning to be kind to yourself again. Just being around a close friend who allows you to be yourself is a true blessing. Thank you for sharing your journey so candidly with us. You are making a difference!

  3. Thank you, thank you for being so open and sharing publicly where you are with your feelings. I appreciate all you wrote and have questioned myself, since many losses last year, about depression. I may have a mild form of SAD as well but I go through this every winter and know this will improve with spring coming. I suffered through depression many years ago, so I do recognize the signs but I hate medications, so I find myself pushing through some days to get anything accomplished. What I miss most is laughter, so when I am in this place, I find ways to have that. I always appreciate your honesty and not mincing words and putting it out there. You are not alone and you are wise to do what brings y-o-u joy. Sometimes, it is also OK to just be and know, hopefully, nothing stays the same, changes always occur. Take care, keep sharing, but be well in this place we call life!

  4. I feel you, my sister friend! Spring is coming much earlier here this year — about 7 weeks earlier in our cycles at the moment. Crazy and bad for the coming dry summer, but very nourishing for those of us who crave the sunshine and warmth.

    One thing in your post jumped out at me, and we’ve talked about this before — why do people say things like “just get over it, move on, etc” as a derogatory statement against medical conditions? The diabetic may be able to fully control their condition with lifestyle changes, but maybe not. Just because they still need insulin does not make them “less than” as a person — it means that they are coping the best they can and are being responsible with their health. Depression is my shadow and often it’s so dark I can’t distinguish myself from my shadow. It’s not a failing to need to turn on the light! If lighting the candle doesn’t work, you flip the damn light switch! It’s about empowering yourself to be your own best self. You use the tools that are best suited for the job at hand. Just because you can’t repair the house with a hammer does not mean you have failed — it means you are not using the appropriate tool. Finding and using the right tool FOR YOU is the strongest, most powerful, best way toward success. I love you dearly and it breaks my heart when you treat yourself harshly. Please be compassionate and gentle with my friend — lots of people love her. Treat her kindly and let her use the tools she needs without shame or derision. She deserves your unconditional love, too. Really.

  5. Hi Janet….we have just become friends through FB but I was so moved by your writings that I felt the need to respond. Depression has been my friend for years and I say friend because it is there whether I like it or not. I can usually recognize it an honor it as part of myself. I don’t let it define me, we live a coexistent life together. I’ve learned that meds are available if it gets too debilitating and don’t set expectations as to when that cycle will end.
    I, too have experienced loosing a loved one. My son. Grief is something that also needs to be honored and everyone experiences grief differently, it is a process and depression is a byproduct.
    There really isn’t much more you can do except do what you are doing to make each and everyday the best day. Things do change in time, for me it has been 40 years but some days my old friend puts me to bed. See you at Glacier……….be well and be kind to yourself

    • Pat thank you for your insight. I wish someone had a guide to all of this, that I could read and go “oh yeah” and feel better. The hardest part is trying to much through it as best I can. Sigh. I am sorry for the loss of your son.

  6. No shame in being honest and taking meds to help. You have an amazing artistic sense in Your photography and painting. I really like the therapist’s suggestions.

  7. Dental challenges would depress me! Talk about these, please. Cannot imagine throwing myself out there emotionally as you have done. You are amazing (and Elsie is cuter than either of us will ever be).

    • Patty dental changes are depressing. I am finally getting close to the end of my season of the dentist. I certainly will have a happy mouth. And…Elsie is very cute.

  8. Here, in the UK, spring is tantalisingly close. Its lighter in the mornings and the sun is now going down at 5.30pm-thank goodness, as I feel I had just enough energy to get through the dark days and no more. So, thank you for your honest post and thank you for the list of assignments, really good ideas there that will keep me going till the crocuses are in full bloom.

  9. Thank you for sharing. As I sit here depressed about my life I enjoy your adventures and know that it’s not easy. During a low time for me, God gave beautiful sunsets and since I don’t have a beautiful view it was my wake up call to get out and enjoy what is out there. I do enjoy your photos and love taking pictures too. Thanks for the reminder.

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